Emergency: Bees get sugar fix from aphid nectar!

Bee feeding on nectar produced by aphids
Bee feeding on nectar produced by aphids

Shockingly bees are so short of nutritional nectar they’ve taken to drinking the nectar produced by aphids farmed by ants in our gardens. Unlikely as this sounds, I was checking out some blackfly and aphids that had colonised a Wild Cherry tree in my garden and noticed some bees settling on the aphid-ridden leaves. ‘Bees don’t eat aphids do they?’ I thought. So I googled it (other search engines are available) and found this: http://news.bbc.co.uk

The key point is that there is no nutritional value in aphid nectar – its just empty sugar to the bees. its a bit like getting our kids to live off of sugary cola rather than eating anything beneficial. Bees need protein too – not just sugars. Okay, I’m not going to condemn the bees for getting their kicks from aphid nectar, but what I am going to do is get some sweet peas (particularly nutritious to bees) and plant them in the garden to help those bees kick the habit. Serious!


4 thoughts on “Emergency: Bees get sugar fix from aphid nectar!

  1. This is interesting! I’ve been keeping an eye on my ever growing aphid versus ladybug war that is raging on my viburnum and I noticed ants and a lone bee on the most infected bush. It would seem the ants ‘care’ for the aphids for the same reasons bees are now going after the aphid nectar. I’m dying to chemically treat for the aphids but I have to believe the ladybugs will do their job…go ladybugs!! I am treating for ants however…little buggars hurt when they bite! Also, I live in Florida and not the UK so just how far spread is this bee hooked on sugar problem?

    1. Hi Sue, thanks for your comment. Yes – the ants ‘farm’ the aphids protecting them from predators so that the ants can get the nectar from them. My understanding is that the situation of bees feeding on aphid nectar is due to the bees being in a stressful situation where they can’t find enough nectar from plants. I’m planting sweet peas, lavender, honeysuckle etc as these are good plants for bees. Unfortunately the nectar from the aphids has little nutritional value for the bees, unlike nectar from plants. I live in the south of England, the article that I linked to was about bees in Scotland – this is the other end of Great Britain (approx 400 miles from us). It is especially worrying that you are experiencing this in Florida as well as that means it is more widespread than I’ve read about. It could also be a problem caused by the bees suffering stress from pesticides and veroa mites. Europe has just banned certain pesticides (neonicotinides) from being used here because of the effect on bees – not sure where the US is on this matter?

      1. Thanks for the reply! There was an article on The Washington Post and it would appear that like all things environmental, the US is moving rather slowly on banning pesticides. They are conducting a 5 year study so I wouldn’t expect a ban anytime soon. Not surprising…sad but not surprising. http://m.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/03/why-are-bees-dying-the-u-s-and-europe-have-different-theories/

        In the meantime, I gave my plants a good wash with the hose. Looks like the ladybugs did a pretty decent job and the hose got the rest. Not a permanent solution by any means but no chemicals! I need the bushes to grow so I don’t have to look at my awful neighbors anymore!

      2. The hose sounds like a good idea. The other thing I’ve heard you can do is to squirt the aphids with a dilute solution of washing up liquid – preferably one that is Eco-friendly like Method or Ecover. This is supposed to make it tricky for the aphids to hold on! Hope this helps – good luck!

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